All Conrad's major characters are, in a fundamental sense, orphans. To men like Marlow, his parents offer him no predestined place in an ordered world, or, if such a place exists, they do not feel it is a real alternative for them.
The knowledge of a hostile, annihilating force at the center of existence brings to Conrad's characters a constant sense of their personal vulnerability. Before this revelation, they were orphans in search of a ground for their lives, but they never doubted their ability to discover such a ground.
For most of Conrad's characters, the experience of vulnerability marks the real beginning of their voyage. Conrad's novels are attempts to come to terms with this experience, to work out ways of living with or overcoming this knowledge, for only if some such way can be found can man ever attain a stable identity.
Perhaps mind can confront the darkness directly and master it. Although this darkness is in its essence something alien to mind, if mind can asset its control over this force, if it can give it rational form and substance and thus fix the image of the "ombre sinistre et fuyante" the darkness will be robbed of its destructive potential. By assimilating its sources in this way, it might still be possible for man to achieve self, sufficiency. While he will not have found a father, found some source, which naturally confers its reality upon him, man will have made one.
For most of Conrad's characters, the initial thrust of their attempt to assert sovereignty over the ground of their existence is directed toward its immediate source in the irrational.
Ultimately, however, man's efforts to control the darkness must lead him beyond t...
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...land; it is among the things they order better in France. Mr.Graham Greene, who has learned both from France and Conrad, has grasped this fact, and never proposes to make our flesh creep as Conrad and James in these stories do.
Kurtz may be described as the logical consequence for any man of admitting a breach in those defenses that the guarding of personal integrity constantly requires. The line of human heads with which his station had been embellished only showed, Marlow reflects, "that there was something wanting in him- some small matter which, when the pressing need arose, could not be bound". Or- as it is expressed elsewhere - "his nerves went wrong". There are several other tales of this period- notably Falk and The End of the Tether-, which turn upon this theme. And it makes, if with a somewhat less lurid coloring, the basis of Lord Jim (1900). (22)
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